Friday, June 7, 2013

Slapsticon Moves to a New Venue

Before Mike Myers, Woody Allen, Tracey Ullman, Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, and Adam Sandler, there were many early film pioneers who broke new ground in the art of motion picture comedy. Some of the more familiar names include Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Mabel Normand, Charley Chase, Harry Langdon, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Thelma Todd, along with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

However, a significant number of lesser-known artists made important contributions to the development of film comedy. These artists include the likes of Larry Semon, Jimmie Adams, Lupino Lane, Gale Henry, Lloyd Hamilton, Max Linder, Billy West, Bobby Vernon, Alice Howell, Snub Pollard, Billy Bevan, Ford Sterling, Fay Tincher, Andy Clyde, Monty Banks, Clyde Cook, and Raymond Griffith, among many, many others.

It is to the well-known — and especially the lesser-known comedians, producers, directors, writers, and studios — that SLAPSTICON is dedicated.This annual, four-day film festival features screenings of rarely seen comedies from the silent and early sound eras. It is an opportunity to view films that are some of the earliest creative efforts in the development of motion picture comedy. Having attended many film festivals, I can state for certain that watching Laurel and Hardy or Charley Chase at home is worth a chuckle or laugh. But watching the same comedy shorts on the big screen in an audience that appreciates the same makes the comedy shorts all the more merrier -- and funnier. The difference between watching the shorts at home versus at a film festival is that the films go from funny to hilarious.

Just as important, SLAPSTICON, like any convention or film festival, is an opportunity to meet other people like you who share an interest in the appreciation and preservation of early film comedy. In attendance at SLAPSTICON are some of the nation's most dedicated motion picture researchers and collectors, most of whom are walking encyclopedias of early film comedy.

Monte Banks in ATTA BOY (1926)
Slapsticon 2003 was held at the Spectrum Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. from July 10–13. Regrettably, I was unable to attend because it was the same weekend as another show in North Carolina and I was already committed to that show. Some of the highlights that year was "I'll Take My Keaton Rare," An entire evening devoted to rarely seen and recently discovered Buster Keaton material. A tribute to Charley Chase's silent years, a screening of Chaplin shorts struck from the original nitrate,and The Slapstick Summit (A panel of silent comedy historians, collectors and accompanists).

Slapsticon 2004 was produced by Dave Stevenson, Cole & Mark Johnson and friends. It was headquartered at the Lowell, Massachusetts Doubletree Inn with sortees to other sites around the Boston area. Highlights included a special guest appearance by Jean Darling of the Our Gang (Little Rascals) comedies. A program of Hal Roach two-reelers accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer at Babson College, a screening of rare 35mm shorts at the Coolidge Corner Theater, a tribute to Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's talents as comedian and director, and rare Mack Sennett shorts were among the highlights. There was a Snookie the Humanzee retrospective, a birthday tribute to Thelma Todd complete with cake and candles and the Mark Johnson collection of glass coming-attraction slides.

Slapsticon 2005 returned to its permanent home at the Rosslyn Spectrum in Arlington, Virginia, where the event was held annually from that day forward. It was the highest level of attendance to date. Some highlights: The re-premiere of Mabel Normand's Head Over Heels after 80 years. The Washington premiere of UCLA's restoration of Tillie's Punctured Romance.A rare screening of Raymond Griffith in Howard Hawk's Trent's Last Case at the National Gallery of Art. An unidentified films seminar at the Library of Congress. An appearance by W. C. Fields' granddaughter, Harriet Fields. The Rob Stone Solo Laurel OR Hardy Show.

Lloyd Hamilton in MOONSHINE (1920)

This year the event SLAPSTICON 2013 will be held at a new venue at the IU Cinema at Indiana University in Bloomington, June 27-30, 2013! The IU Cinema is a fabulous place to watch movies, and the campus and hotel at IU’s Student Union are very nice and hospitable places to stay up and discuss Billy Franey and Milburn Morante into the wee hours. Among the highlights of this year's event is a screening of the 1946 movie, Bringing Up Father, adapted from the newspaper comic strip of the same name, War, Italian Style (1967 with Buster Keaton), Keystone Girls Open Trout Season (1917), Moonshine (1920, with Lloyd Hamilton, a comedian who I recently discovered when watching a few silent comedies earlier this year and enjoyed very much), and a selection of comedy gems so diverse that it's difficult to name a comedian during the golden age of slapstick that isn't featured. 

To accompany the many silent comedies to be shown during SLAPSTICON, there are two very talented musicians booked. Dr. Philip Carli has been accompanying silent film since the age of 13. He tours extensively as a film accompanist throughout North America and Europe, and has performed at such venues as Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Cinémathèque Québécoise in Montreal, the National Film Theatre in London, and the Berlin International Film Festival. Dr. Carli performs annually at several film festivals in the United States, as well as at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Italy. Dr. Carli has recorded piano accompaniments to over seventy films for video release by the Library of Congress, a number of film and video companies, and for broadcast on the American Movie Classics and the Turner Classic Movies cable channels. He has most recently composed and recorded scores for Kino's edition of Peter Pan and Laughsmith Entertainment's The Forgotten Films of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.

For more information about Dr. Philip Carli, go to

Andrew Earle Simpson, composer, pianist, and organist, is ordinary professor and chair of the division of theory-composition at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music of The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. As Resident Film Accompanist at the National Gallery of Art and House Accompanist at the Library of Congress’ Mt. Pony Theater, Dr. Simpson performs improvised piano and organ scores. Andrew also creates fully-notated scores for silent film for live performance and DVD release.
He has performed silent film scores at the Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy, the New York Public Library, Sala Cecelia Meireles in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Kennedy Center, and many other venues.
Dr. Simpson also explores film and video as part of a larger theatrical context: cabaret, musical theater, opera. The Comic Roach: A Roadhouse Picture Show, which premiered at the 2009 Capital Fringe Festival , is an example of embedding silent film within a larger theatrical production (a “film-cabaret”).
Mr. Simpson is also the co-founder of the Snark Ensemble

If you live within driving distance of Bloomington, Indiana, and have a day or two free, or even an afternoon, go check it out and enjoy the comedies being scheduled for this year's event.

On-line registration through the IU website is now available at
$99 for a full 4-day pass.
$30 for a single day pass.

The closest hotel to the IU Cinema is the Biddle Hotel right on campus.
Guests can either make reservations online at or by calling the hotel directly at 800.209.8145. If you call, you MUST say "Slapsticon" or "Slapstick"! Otherwise you will be told the hotel is sold out. As of now there are still rooms left in the Slapsticon block.
Online Reservation instructions:
click “Biddle Hotel”
click “accommodations”
scroll down to “reserve a room” put in desired arrival / departure dates
click here for special rates
enter group code: SLAPSTICK
click “check availability”
make selection and process reservation
Off-campus budget accomodations include the Bloomington Travelodge East 3rd
(NOTE: This hotel is among the closest to the IU Cinema and rates are currently just $57/night.)

For more information, e-mail

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